It’s not unusual for someone to ask me, “How do blackjack side bets work?”
There are two reasons for this. For one thing, all my friends know I love to gamble. I own a few different pairs of blackjack-themed socks for formal occasions.
But also, blackjack side bets seem more complicated than they really are.
Blackjack side bets work by setting up a paytable that’s based on things that happen during a standard round of blackjack. Your side wager is separate from your bet on the main blackjack game.
Honestly, all it takes is a few minutes and a little reading to understand everything you need to know about how blackjack side bets work. If you want to recover from a big gambling loss, blackjack side bets often offer big payouts, but the house edge is correspondingly higher. You’ll have to decide for yourself about your risk tolerance for this kind of thing.
Side bets are available in both online blackjack games and in brick and mortar casinos.
What Is a Blackjack Side Bet?
A side bet in blackjack is any bet you can place during a live blackjack game that’s separate from the main game.
While these side wagers are based on things that happen during a live blackjack game, they’re decided separately from your main wager.
Because so many different kinds of blackjack side wagers exist, it’s difficult to make any sweeping generalizations about them beyond what I just said. The payouts and probabilities of these bets range from “not so bad” to “you should never place this bet.”
Some blackjack side bets are fun, and they don’t give the house a major advantage. Most are best avoided because they’re sucker bets.
I’ll go into a lot more detail on probabilities and payouts during the rest of the post.
How Does a Blackjack Side Bet Work?
Let’s start by establishing something.
When I say, “main bet,” I’m talking about the bet you place to start a round of blackjack. At my favorite nearby casino, I have to put down at least $10 to get the round started. Obviously, table minimums vary.
In many blackjack games, the main bet is the only thing going on. In these games, no side bets or other action are available. It’s you and the other players at the table vs. the house via the dealer’s hand.
(Blackjack games with side bets are easy to identify because they have an area on the table’s surface where you can place your bet.)
You place a blackjack side bet by putting your bet in the designated spot. You should do this before any cards are dealt. I do it at the same time as placing my main bet.
The outcome of your bet is based on the cards in your hand. Sometimes the outcome also involves the dealer’s cards.
Examples of Popular Blackjack Side Bets and How They Work
The side bets in blackjack listed here are the most popular.
These are the side wagers you’re most likely to find on your next blackjack casino trip.
How the 21 + 3 Side Bet Works
This is the most common side wager in blackjack.
Here’s how it works:
21 + 3 has a pay table that pays out based on a combination of your two dealt cards and the dealer’s upcard.
21 + 3 blackjack pay tables are based on traditional poker hands.
Here’s a typical pay table for 21 + 3 blackjack:
- Flush pays 5 to 1. The three cards in the bet are of the same suit.
- Straight pays 10 to 1. The three cards in the bet are in order, such as 9-10-J.
- 3 of a kind pays 30 to 1. The three cards in the bet are of the same rank.
- Straight flush pays 40 to 1. The three cards in the bet are suited and in order.
- Suited 3 of a kind pays 100 to 1. The three cards are of the same rank and suit.
Based on this pay table, the house edge on each of your bets is 3.7%.
That’s actually better than the typical house edge against an unskilled blackjack player, which is around 5%.
Many pay tables exist. None of them give you better odds than this one.
If you’re going to place a 21 + 3 side bet, look for the pay table listed above.
How the Perfect Pairs Side Bet Works
The Perfect Pairs side bet is just about as popular as 21 + 3.
Basically, this is a prop bet based on your dealt hand. If you’re dealt a pair, you win. If you don’t you lose.
Here’s a typical pay table for a Perfect Pairs game in an 8 deck format:
- Perfect pairs pay 25. Your first two cards are suited and match in rank.
- Colored pairs pay 15. Your first two cards match in rank and color but not suit.
- Red/black pairs pay 5. Your first two cards match in rank but not color or suit.
In this setup, the house edge is about 2.1%.
Is that a good bet? I can’t answer that for you.
If I think about it, I’ve spent a lot of money on slot machines with a lot bigger edge than that, so maybe it is a good bet.
Then again, if I follow basic strategy and find a good blackjack game, I could be playing against an edge even smaller than that.
If you like placing the Perfect Pairs bet and you don’t mind the edge, there’s no harm in placing. The edge isn’t so bad that I’d call it a sucker bet, necessarily.
How Does the Insurance Side Bet in Blackjack Work?
Insurance doesn’t seem like a side bet because it’s built into the rule of the game.
But, if you think about it, and look at some of my evidence below, you’ll realize that’s exactly what it is.
First\, you’re only offered the insurance bet when something else happens in-game. That’s the first sign.
Second, you have to place an additional bet to participate. You can’t just take insurance. You have to place a bet (usually half of your main bet) to get in on the action.
Finally, the house edge on the insurance bet can be as high as 7.4%. The more decks in the game, the bigger the house edge. Any bet in blackjack with an edge that high is obviously a side bet.
All of that for a potential 2:1 payout.
Remember, that payout is just designed to help you break even on your main bet.
Breaking even – what a prize.
Here’s how it works:
This side bet is called “insurance” because it indemnifies your main bet against a dealer blackjack. That’s why it’s only triggered by a dealer ace.
Once you’ve placed your insurance bet (for me, it’s usually $5, or half of my $10 main bet), the outcome is determined by revealing the dealer’s hole card. If the dealer gets a blackjack, you win 2:1.
Remember that the dealer has about a 1 in 3 chance of landing a blackjack. But because the payout is only 2:1, this is a losing bet.
How Super Sevens Blackjack Works
Super Sevens bets are a lot more limited in terms your wager size. I’ve never seen a Super Sevens blackjack table that allowed more than $5 bets.
Maybe they exist in the high-limit section, but I don’t play blackjack there.
This bet pays out if your first card is a seven. Additional payouts exist for the other cards you’re dealt. The player is trying to rack up the right combinations of sevens to win payouts.
Though different pay tables exist, the one below is typical for a Super Sevens blackjack game in a 6-deck format:
- 7s suited pays 5,000.
- Triple 7s pays 500.
- 7-7 suited pays 100.
- 7-7 pays 50.
- A 7 on its own pays 3.
Based on this pay table, the house edge is 12.6%.
Remember that returns aren’t the same as probabilities. You’ll literally lose more than 92% of the time when you place this bet. That’s frustrating. I’m not sure how many people will enjoy losing more than 9 times out of 10.
Even though the cost is low – at my favorite area casino, you can’t bet more than $1 on Super Sevens – the house has a huge advantage against you.
People wondering how blackjack side bets work just need a little exposure to the game to figure it all out. Once you understand one blackjack side bet, it’s easy to learn a new one.
Obviously, side bets aren’t for everyone. Advantage gamblers stay far away from even the most generous blackjack side wager. But some blackjack players enjoy the added drama and potential winnings of side bets.
So long as you understand the risk involved, it’s fine to place blackjack side bets. Don’t do it expecting huge winnings and try not to chase losses.
Blackjack side bets are dessert; the main game is meat and potatoes.